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Federal Agencies Need Better Supervisor Training, Says OPM

Wednesday, May 30, 2018
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A recent memo to human resources directors from the Office of Personnel Management announced the results of the agency’s Federal Supervisory Training Program Survey. The survey was conducted in 2016 in compliance with Government Accountability Office recommendations on how to improve performance management among supervisors.

GAO had found that supervisors in federal agencies have three avenues to address employees’ poor performance. The first, day-to-day performance management activities (such as providing regular performance feedback to employees) can produce more desirable outcomes for agencies and employees than dismissal options. “However, supervisors do not always have effective skills, such as the ability to identify, communicate, and help address employee performance issues,” said GAO.

Next, GAO found that agencies need to do a better job of supervising new employees and managers during their probationary periods. “Probationary periods for new employees provide supervisors with an opportunity to evaluate an individual’s performance to determine if an appointment to the civil service should become final,” noted the GAO report. According to the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) that GAO interviewed, “supervisors often do not use this time to make performance-related decisions about an employee’s performance because they may not know that the probationary period is ending or they have not had time to observe performance in all critical areas.”

What the OPM Survey Uncovered

OPM’s survey found that 84 percent of survey participants indicated their agency’s new supervisory training program curriculum included the mandatory training topics. However, only 63 percent of survey participants indicated their agency included the mandatory training topics in experienced supervisory training programs.

Additionally, survey participants were asked whether they provided training and development for the additional recommended topics and leadership competencies included in OPM’s Federal Supervisory and Managerial Frameworks. On average, agencies indicated that the topics were included in new supervisors training program curriculums than in experienced supervisor curriculums. More than two-thirds (69 percent) of survey participants indicated they included recommended HR-related technical knowledge and leadership competencies in New Supervisors training program curriculums, and only 54 percent included the recommended topics in experienced supervisors training program curriculums. Meanwhile, aspiring leader/team lead training curriculums on average incorporated significantly fewer (27 percent) of the recommended training topics and competencies.

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Survey participants also were asked to indicate the type of learning interventions offered for each of the following leadership levels:

  • aspiring leaders/team lead
  • new supervisors
  • experienced supervisors.

The top four interventions offered in all leadership curriculums were the same:

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  1. on-site classroom/in-person courses
  2. passive web/computer-based instruction
  3. off-site classroom/in-person courses
  4. workshops.

The most notable difference was in the fifth most commonly offered learning intervention: coaching. The survey finds that coaching was primarily offered to experienced supervisors and mentoring was primarily offered to aspiring leaders/team leads and new supervisors. However, OPM encourages agencies to provide coaching services as a supplement to leadership development efforts at all levels because it is considered one of the most effective leadership development interventions. “Coaching can improve federal supervisors’ interpersonal skills thereby enhancing the supervisor-employee relationship and ultimately maximizing employee performance,” notes OPM.

Conclusions and Recommendations

While the federal government requires supervisory training, the development, implementation, and evaluation of these types of training programs have been left to the discretion of the individual agencies. “Agencies have the flexibility to implement learning and development requirements and recommendations, in consideration of mission needs and funding availability,” explains the memo.

As a result, there is inconsistent delivery and availability of supervisory training across agencies. To improve accessibility, adequacy, and effectiveness of supervisory training, OPM offers several recommendations:

  • Every supervisory training program should begin with specific business requirements. Agencies should design and evaluate supervisory training programs with the lines of business that will be impacted by the training. The learning opportunities should align with the organizational needs, knowledge risk, and be designed to demonstrate increased proficiency aligned with an employee’s career progression from an aspiring leader/team lead through an experienced supervisor.
  • Agencies build leadership capability at all levels to support effective succession management. Agencies should provide additional training opportunities for aspiring leaders/team leads on HR-related technical knowledge and leadership competencies. This will reduce the need for intensive training after an employee receives her first supervisory role.
  • New and experienced supervisors have IDPs to improve organizational and individual accountability of training requirements, improve current job performance, and measure their development progress. IDPs strengthen organizational health by aligning supervisory training and development efforts with the agency’s mission, goals, objectives, and performance management system to address developmental areas. A strategic IDP process produces agile supervisors capable of recalibrating to meet the demands of constant organizational and enterprise-wide change.
  • Agencies develop an evaluation strategy that aligns with the organizational strategy to obtain more robust and meaningful contributions to agency outcomes. Useful evaluations will result in increased capacity, consistently dedicated resources, and evidence-based program decisions.
About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected] 

1 Comment
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Perfect, I wish all organizations had this understanding but more importantly "the follow-through".
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